By Anni Irish
On a recent sunny fall afternoon I visited Greene Ave. Tattoo. The trees were just beginning to turn color even though it was an unseasonably warm day.
Greene Ave Tattoo is located in the historic neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. As I made my way down Greene Avenue from the B69 bus stop, I felt as if I had been transported into another time period. Each brownstone I passed seemed to be more beautiful then the last, with intricate wrought iron stair railings and seasonal floral arrangements in neatly tended flower boxes. While Greene Ave Tattoo seems to be an unlikely addition to this historic area of Brooklyn, it is quickly becoming part of its landscape.
Opened in 2009, Greene Ave. represents the changing face of Brooklyn. Amidst the mothers and baby strollers, tattooed hipsters entered and Greene Ave. has become a neighborhood mainstay.
As I entered the shop, I was immediately greeted by a fashionably dressed male receptionist in black thick-rimmed glasses. The reception area featured a collage of tattoo flash options (designs that artists have come up with to give walk ins ideas for tattoos) on the wall. The sitting area has each artist's portfolios neatly laid out on a table with comfortable chairs set out for customers to occupy as they waited for either a consultation or to get tattooed. The receptionist was very friendly, and told me to take a seat while he went to get shop apprentice, Lucas Finelli. I met Finelli this past summer at Project Parlor, a local bar where he also works.
I sat down with Finelli to discuss what it's like being a tattoo apprentice - how he got started and about tattoos in general. Finelli, who is a New Jersey native, has been apprenticing under tattooer and shop owner, Big Jaz, for the past four years. Finelli started getting tattooed at 16. He vividly remembers his dad taking him to a tattoo shop at age 8. During this particular visit, Finelli's dad got a tattoo of a fishing hook. While his dad was getting tattooed, Fellini became so fascinated by the process and asked so many questions, that the shop owner asked him to wait outside until his dad was finished. This experience at a young age solidified Finelli's love for tattooing.
Prior to apprenticing at Greene Ave., Finelli's first worked as a professional piercer and began "collecting" tattoos from artists all over the country. Collecting tattoos, for Finelli and many others, involves traveling or attending various tattoo conventions or shops to get tattooed by specific artists. Finellli's "collection" covers almost his entire body including his neck, arms, hands and knuckles.
When asked what he thought the difference between tattooing and piercing was, he described the piercing process as less "intimate" than tattooing because "tattooing means you will have an image on you permanently and a piercing is only temporary." Finelli's typical day at the shop begins with him arriving between 10 and 11am and he stays until close. He assists in all aspects of the day to day running of the shop including cleaning, ringing customers up, watching other artists tattoo in addition to building up his portfolio. He typically works about 80 hours a week just at the tattoo shop in addition to bartending to support himself. While his work-weeks are grueling, Finelli is genuinely enjoying this experience and learning many things.
Tattoo apprenticeships serve as a right of passage within the industry and entail many aspects. This means that the tattooer in charge of the apprentice is passing down their knowledge of the trade and investing in the person they have chosen. Finelli's apprenticeship is no different. Since 2008, Finelli has been working under Big Jaz to learn all the tricks of the trade. What makes this apprenticeship even more special is that Finelli is Big Jaz's third and final apprentice. Big Jaz has been tattooing since 1994 and is well known within the industry, often traveling to national and international tattoo conventions throughout the year. Big Jaz initially came to tattooing with a love of photo realism and black and gray work; over the years has cultivated this talent into all forms of tattooing. Greene Ave. is also the fourth tattoo shop that Big Jaz has opened and operated. His influence can be seen within Finelli's work and within the Greene Ave. shop in general.
During the interview, Finelli was hard at work on a watercolor of a tiger. When asked what his favorite images to create were, he responded quickly by saying "roses, tigers and old-school pinup girls." These images cover his work space and his attention to detail is evident in his paintings and drawings.
The charm of the Clinton Hill neighborhood has been incorporated into Greene Ave. through the people who work there, the decor of the shop and the tattoos they produce. While Greene Ave. has only been open for three years, it has quickly gained a loyal local following. Greene Ave. has a very successful future ahead of itself, which can only be underscored through the talented tattoo artists who work there and the great work they produce.